Portraits of Wildflowers

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Posts Tagged ‘tree

Verdant

with 14 comments

 

Look how lush the maidenhair ferns (Adiantum capillus-veneris), inland sea oats (Chasmanthum latifolium), and other plants were along the trail between Springfield Park and McKinney Falls State Park in southeast Austin on May 21st. Thanks to recent rain, drops were still falling from the roof of the dark little “grotto” at the center. Below you see what an adjacent stretch of Onion Creek was looking like. The large tree with the interesting roots at the right is a bald cypress (Taxodium distichum).

 

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 24, 2023 at 4:29 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Anacacho orchid tree

with 10 comments

 

Making its debut here today is something you probably haven’t heard of before: the anacacho orchid tree, Bauhinia lunarioides. Primarily found in parts of west Texas near the Rio Grande River, BONAP also shows it attested two counties west of the one Austin is in. This is a cultivated specimen as it looked at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on March 31st.

 

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Here’s another passage from Marian L. Tupy and Gale L. Pooley’s 2022 book Superabundance, which is chock full of statistics showing how much the modern world has improved, and which I highly recommend.

One factor driving the massive increase in wealth worldwide is an energy transformation that began in the 19th century. Back in 1800, 98.28 percent of humanity’s energy came from the burning of biofuels such as wood and peat and from the muscles of humans and their animals. All are horribly inefficient at generating energy. In 2017, humans used traditional biofuels for only 7.09 percent of the world’s energy needs. Over 87 percent of our energy supply came from fossil fuels. While the use of fossil fuels is not without negative side effects, it is superior to burning down Earth’s forests to power our economy and keep us warm.

Today, many people are wedded to the romantic view of the premodern era, where people are supposed to have lived in harmony with the bucolic natural environment. In fact, our ancestors had to endure horrific environmental conditions. Let’s start with air quality. In 17th century London, English writer and journalist Claire Tomalin observed in her 2002 book, Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, “Every household burnt coal. . . . The smoke from their chimneys made the air dark, covering every surface with sooty grime. There were days when a cloud of smoke half a mile high and twenty miles wide could be seen over the city. . . . Londoners spat black?

In a similar vein, Carlo M. Cipolla quoted from the diary of British writer John Evelyn (1620-1706), who wrote in 1661 that “in London, we see people walk and converse pursued and haunted by that infernal smoke. The inhabitants breathe nothing but an impure and thick mist, accompanied by a fuliginous and filthy vapour . . . corrupting the lungs and disordering the entire habit of their bodies.”

In the 19th century, indoor air pollution remained a visible problem. In her 2005 book, Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England, the Canadian historian Judith Flanders noted Ralph Waldo Emerson’s observation that “no one . . . [in England] wore white because it was impossible to keep it clean.” According to Flanders, hairbrushes looked “black after once using,” and tablecloths were laid just before eating, “as otherwise dust settled from the fire and they became dingy in a matter of hours.”

The streets were also dirty. John Harrington (1561-1612) invented the toilet in 1596, but bathrooms still remained rare luxuries 200 years later. Chamber pots continued to be emptied into the streets, turning the latter into sewers. To make matters worse, even inhabitants of large towns continued to engage in animal husbandry well into the 18th century. As Braudel noted, “Pigs were reared in freedom in the streets. And the streets were so dirty and muddy that they had to be crossed on stilts, unless wooden bridges were thrown across from one side to the other. . . . As late as 1746, in Venice, it was apparently necessary to forbid the keeping of pigs “in the city and in the monasteries:” Much of that filth eventually ended up in rivers, upon which most cities were built.

In 1858, the stench from the River Thames was so bad that “the curtains on the river side of the building were soaked in lime chloride to overcome the smell.” The effort was unsuccessful, and this once moved Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli to flee a committee room “with a mass of papers in one hand, and with his pocket handkerchief applied to his nose,” because the stench was so bad. He called the river “a Stygian pool, reeking with ineffable and intolerable horrors ” Keep in mind that even after the Industrial Revolution had begun, much of the pollution was still nonindustrial. English social researcher and journalist Henry Mayhew found that the Thames contained “ingredients from breweries, gasworks, and chemical and mineral manufactories; dead dogs, cats, and kittens, fats, offal from slaughterhouses; street-pavement dirt of every variety; vegetable refuse; stable-dung; the refuse of pig-styes; night-soil; ashes; tin kettles and pans … broken stoneware, jars, pitchers, flower-pots, etc.; pieces of wood; rotten mortar and rubbish of different kinds.

Fast-forward to 2015 when the BBC reported that “more than 2,000 seals have been spotted in the Thames over the past decade . . . along with hundreds of porpoises and dolphins and even the odd stray whale. . . . There are now 125 species of fish in the Thames, up from almost none in the 1950s.” Similarly, average concentrations of suspended particulate matter in London’s air rose from 390 micrograms per cubic meter in 1800 to a peak of 623 in 1891, before falling to 16 in 2016.99 Today, the air in the capital of the United Kingdom ranks as one of the cleanest among the world’s major cities, and environmental quality has much improved in other rich countries as well.

There can be no doubt that industrialization did great damage to the environment during the second half of the 19th century. On the other hand, it also created wealth that allowed advanced societies to build better sanitation facilities and spurred the creation of an enlightened populace with a historically unprecedented concern over the environment and a willingness to pay for its stewardship through somewhat higher taxation. As Don Boudreaux wrote,


To live harmoniously with nature is to understand and accept natural forces. The greater this understanding and acceptance, the greater the harmony. Because we know so much more today than we did before about physics, chemistry, meteorology, biology, physiology, metallurgy, and on and on with our ologies and urgies, we live so much more harmoniously with nature. . . . It is we today, with our knowledge of how to irrigate fields using science and engineering, and how to make and administer antibiotics, who live harmoniously with nature. . . . Only people who understand these [natural] forces and how to counteract or reinforce or sustain or alter them with other natural forces can be truly said to live harmoniously with nature. It is science—rational thought, skepticism, critical inquiry—that furthers greater harmony with nature.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 9, 2023 at 4:24 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Mexican buckeye

with 14 comments

 

I’ve been so busy with our long wildflower drives that I forgot to show these
Mexican buckeye blossoms (Ungnadia speciosa) from Great Hills Park on March 10th.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 19, 2023 at 4:28 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Epiepiphyte

with 11 comments

 

First came a tree branch. Then lichens partly surrounded the branch. Then on top of the lichens came a ball moss, Tillandsia recurvata. (If your imagination turns the ball moss into a supernumerary spider, that’s on you.) I played botanical archaeologist with the layers on March 4th on the grounds of Central City Austin, which despite its name is a church far from the center of Austin.

I seem able to get away with epiepiphyte [from Greek epi, meaning ‘upon, over, around’] in my title because there’s ambiguity in the term epiphyte. All the dictionaries I’ve checked give a definition like ‘a plant that grows on another plant but is not parasitic on it.’ The key word in such definitions is plant. Outside dictionaries, some sources use epiphyte more broadly by replacing plant with organism. For instance, the Wikipedia article on epiphytes says “Epiphytes in marine systems are species of algae, bacteria, fungi, sponges, bryozoans, ascidians, protozoa, crustaceans, molluscs and any other sessile organism that grows on the surface of a plant, typically seagrasses or algae.” While Wikipedia isn’t always to be trusted, I’m finding the more expansive sense of epiphyte in indisputably scientific sources as well. For example, the book Forest Conditions in a Changing Environment speaks of “epiphytic lichens, which grow on the branches and trunks of trees.” And so it seems I can get away with calling the ball moss in this picture an epiepiphyte.

 

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I recently came across Alan Levinovitz’s article “The info equivalent of junk food,” with subtitle “Ultra-processed information is hijacking our appetites much like ultra-processed snacks do.” Check it out.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 18, 2023 at 4:36 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Return to Lake Somerville State Park

with 24 comments

 

On March 11th we returned to the Birch Creek Unit at Lake Somerville State Park for the first time since we’d visited a year earlier. In contrast to the later dramatic view in yesterday’s post, the clouds had been soft and white. The yellow flowers are Senecio ampullaceus, known as Texas groundsel or Texas ragwort. The others are bluebonnets, Lupinus texensis.

 

 

If clouds be dreams, what pleasant slumbers.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 17, 2023 at 4:33 PM

Oklahoma plum

with 27 comments

 

The third new species to appear here in the past few weeks is the Oklahoma plum, Prunus gracilis. At least that’s what this is likely to be, based on comments by several knowledgeable people in Facebook’s Texas Flora group. After we drove past this densely flowering thicket along the main road in Buescher State Park in Bastrop County on March 5th, I pulled over as soon as I safely could and walked back to take pictures.

 

 

 

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Did you hear about the student at a Catholic high school in Canada who got suspended for opposing the school’s policy of allowing biological boys into girls’ bathrooms? When the student showed up at school anyhow, administrators had him arrested. Not your grandparents’ Catholic school, eh?

You can read more about it.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 15, 2023 at 4:25 AM

First redbuds for 2023

with 28 comments

 

On February 26th in north-central Austin I photographed my first redbud trees (Cercis canadensis) this year.

 

 

 

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Not till the other day had I heard of an organization called Cochrane. I looked it up and found the following statements in the Wikipedia article about it:

Cochrane (previously known as the Cochrane Collaboration) is a British international charitable organisation formed to organise medical research findings to facilitate evidence-based choices about health interventions involving health professionals, patients and policy makers. It includes 53 review groups that are based at research institutions worldwide. Cochrane has approximately 30,000 volunteer experts from around the world.

The group conducts systematic reviews of health-care interventions and diagnostic tests and publishes them in the Cochrane Library….

A 2004 editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal noted that Cochrane reviews appear to be more up to date and of better quality than other reviews, describing them as “the best single resource for methodologic research and for developing the science of meta-epidemiology” and crediting them with leading to methodological improvements in the medical literature.

What led me to check out Cochrane was John Tierney’s February 17th article in City Journal titled “Approximately Zero.” The sub-head reads: “Masks make no difference in reducing the spread of Covid, according to an extensive new review by Cochrane—the gold standard for evaluating health interventions.” Here’s the beginning of the article:

We now have the most authoritative estimate of the value provided by wearing masks during the pandemic: approximately zero. The most rigorous and extensive review of the scientific literature concludes that neither surgical masks nor N95 masks have been shown to make a difference in reducing the spread of Covid-19 and other respiratory illnesses.

This verdict ought to be the death knell for mask mandates, but that would require the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the rest of the public-health establishment to forsake “the science”—and unfortunately, these leaders and their acolytes in the media seem as determined as ever to ignore actual science. Before the pandemic, clinical trials repeatedly showed little or no benefit from wearing masks in preventing the spread of respiratory illnesses like flu and colds. That was why, in their pre-2020 plans for dealing with a viral pandemic, the World Health Organization, the CDC, and other national public-health agencies did not recommend masking the public. But once Covid-19 arrived, magical thinking prevailed. Officials ignored the previous findings and plans, instead touting crude and easily debunked studies purporting to show that masks worked.

The gold standard for medical evidence is the randomized clinical trial, and the gold standard for analyzing this evidence is Cochrane (formerly the Cochrane Collaboration), the world’s largest and most respected organization for evaluating health interventions. Funded by the National Institutes of Health and other nations’ health agencies, it’s an international network of reviewers, based in London, that has partnerships with the WHO and Wikipedia. Medical journals have hailed it for being “the best single resource for methodologic research” and for being “recognized worldwide as the highest standard in evidence-based healthcare.”

It has published a new Cochrane review of the literature on masks, including trials during the Covid-19 pandemic in hospitals and in community settings. The 15 trials compared outcomes of wearing of surgical masks versus wearing no masks, and also versus N95 masks. The review, conducted by a dozen researchers from six countries, concludes that wearing any kind of face covering “probably makes little or no difference” in reducing the spread of respiratory illness.

Now, some would focus on the word “little” in that last sentence, and might reason that even a little protection from respiratory illness is better than none. True enough—provided that wearing a mask had no negative consequences that we would need to balance against the possible but statistically unlikely benefit of protection. Yet we know that masks on children—who were at approximately zero risk from serious Covid-19 consequences during the pandemic—did produce negative effects: masks kept some young children from learning to speak properly and from learning how to gauge other people’s emotions.

So let me go out on a limb:

When assessing something, it’s wrong to look only at the benefits and ignore the harms.

You’re welcome to read John Tierney’s full article.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 11, 2023 at 4:31 AM

Posted in nature photography

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A heart for bumelia

with 38 comments

 

In Great Hills Park on February 21st I came upon a small tree, bare but for the occasional dry leaf still attached. Not recognizing the tree, I posted three pictures to the Texas Flora group on Facebook, and Brush Freeman quickly identified it as gum bumelia. I checked Bill Carr’s Travis County plant list and found it’s classified as Sideroxylon lanuginosum subsp. oblongifolium. A little later Richard Zarria commented that bumelia is a favorite of his, and when I asked why, this was his answer:

 

I am a big fan of what I call “C Student” plants that never make the cover of a magazine. Bumelia does not have the prettiest flower or leaf or bark. It does not grow the tallest. It is spiky and will draw blood from the unaware. This keeps it in the back of the classroom without (broadly) friends or advocates. Nobody grows it, nobody wants it. Even die-hard native plant enthusiasts are surprised when they learn it. Fair enough. Ugly little tree has no friends.

But it is everywhere and often in large quantities. Mother nature seems to think it is important, but we (broadly) don’t.

Bumelia is just one of a long list of “filler” species that are scraped off during development and never thought of again….even by the native plant/tree huggy/green-minded/save the earth crowd. I am this crowd and I love them, btw. Therefore, for the last 20 years I have been an odd cheerleader for this weird and unloved poster child.

Does everyone need to run out and grow it like crazy? No. They just need to be aware that we need diversity, not just beauty.

 

In return I traded some etymology. Bumelia is a Latinized version of Greek boumeliā. The first part is from bous, meaning cow (compare bovine); the second part is meliā, meaning an ash tree. Why a bumelia tree is a “cow ash,” who knows?

Coming back to the photograph: look at the pale gray-green lichen on that slender branch.

 

 

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So the current American administration has nominated a man named Phil Washington to head the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Here’s how that government department describes some of its missions:

We issue and enforce regulations and minimum standards covering manufacturing, operating, and maintaining aircraft. We certify airmen and airports that serve air carriers. The safe and efficient use of navigable airspace is one of our primary objectives. We operate a network of airport towers, air route traffic control centers, and flight service stations. We develop air traffic rules, assign the use of airspace, and control air traffic.

We build or install visual and electronic aids to air navigation. We maintain, operate, and assure the quality of these facilities. We also sustain other systems to support air navigation and air traffic control, including voice and data communications equipment, radar facilities, computer systems, and visual display equipment at flight service stations. We promote aviation safety and encourage civil aviation abroad. We exchange aeronautical information with foreign authorities; certify foreign repair shops, airmen, and mechanics; provide technical aid and training; negotiate bilateral airworthiness agreements with other countries; and take part in international conferences.

We do research on and develop the systems and procedures we need for a safe and efficient system of air navigation and air traffic control. We help develop better aircraft, engines, and equipment and test or evaluate aviation systems, devices, materials, and procedures. We also do aeromedical research.

 

Now, no one could blame you if you assume a nominee to head the FAA has many years of experience in at least some of those things.

Has Phil Washington ever designed aircraft? No.

Does Phil Washington know anything about aeronautics? No.

Has Phil Washington ever worked as an air traffic controller? No.

Does Phil Washington know anything about air traffic safety? No.

Has Phil Washington ever built or installed visual and electronic aids to air navigation? No.

Does Phil Washington know anything about air navigation? No.

Has Phil Washington ever taken part in investigating airplane crashes? No.

Is Phil Washington even a pilot? No.

 

Phil Washington’s only connection to aviation is that since July 2021—not even two years—he has been Executive Officer (CEO) of Denver International Airport (DEN). According to its website, “DEN is the world’s 3rd busiest airport by passenger traffic and is Colorado’s largest economic engine with an annual economic impact of $33.5 billion. Under [Phil Washington’s] leadership, DEN announced the Vision 100 strategy to prepare and improve the airport’s facilities and operations for the anticipated 100 million annual passengers within 10 years. He co-founded the Equity in Infrastructure Program (EIP) to improve contracting practices by creating opportunities for historically underutilized businesses (emphasis mine).”

That last sentence explains Phil Washington’s nomination to head the FAA. Apparently the administration thinks FAA is an initialism for Federal Affirmative Action. Except for the fact that Phil Washington is black, a person with his lack of technical aviation expertise would never have been nominated for such an important and demanding position. It’s an insult to the many people, of whatever race, sex, or other grouping, who do have aviation expertise and could capably head the FAA. Having an unqualified person in charge puts us all at greater risk when we travel by plane.

Oh, and there’s one more thing:

A Los Angeles County criminal probe that involves President Joe Biden’s pick to head the Federal Aviation Administration has some in the aviation industry on edge, fearing a prolonged vacuum at the top of the agency at a fraught moment for air travel. [There have been a bunch of airplane near-misses recently.]

“It certainly has everyone’s attention,” one former Transportation Department official said Friday, two days after sheriff’s investigators executed a search warrant at an LA county supervisor’s home that sought, among other evidence, correspondence with FAA nominee Phil Washington. An attached affidavit includes a whistleblower’s allegations about Washington’s handling of a no-bid contract during his past job heading the county Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

 

 © 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 4, 2023 at 4:29 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Texas mountain laurel

with 24 comments

 

From February 26th in our part of Austin comes a flowering Dermatophyllum secundiflorum, known colloquially as Texas mountain laurel. That common name often leads the uninitiated astray. Let’s start with the last of the three words: true laurels are plants in the botanical family Lauraceae. The Texas mountain laurel isn’t in that family. Neither is the mountain laurel, a shrub that grows in the eastern United States and that belongs to the heath family, Ericaceae.

Texas mountain laurel differs from both of those; it’s in Fabaceae, the botanical family that includes peas and beans. Therefore it’s false to drop the first word and claim that this tree is a mountain laurel, and likewise false to drop the first two words and claim that this tree is a laurel. The first two words are required qualifiers; dropping them distorts reality.

 

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Let’s see how the principle of required qualifiers applies to a news story in The Guardian on February 22nd: 

 

Soy, oat, almond and other drinks that bill themselves as milk can keep using the term, according to draft federal rules released on Wednesday.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials issued guidance that says plant-based beverages do not pretend to be from dairy animals — and that US consumers aren’t confused by the difference.

Dairy producers for years have called for the FDA to crack down on plant-based drinks and other products that they say masquerade as animal-based foods and cloud the real meaning of the term “milk”.

 

The dairy producers’ argument is disingenuous, a ploy to keep up sales of milk. If companies selling soy milk dropped the word soy and labeled the drink as just plain milk, then the dairy folks could legitimately claim fraud because soy milk isn’t actual milk. But no seller of soy milk drops the word soy; when I buy that product—which I do—the package always conspicuously lets me know I’m getting a beverage that comes from soybeans, not from a cow, and which therefore isn’t real milk. Once again, the qualifying word soy makes all the difference.

And that’s why, if we segue from botany and beverages to the culture wars, the slogan “trans women are women” is false. To drop the qualifier trans is to commit a biological fraud. I’m free to enjoy soy milk, but not to claim that it’s actual milk. Trans women are free to live as if they were women, but they aren’t actual women and don’t have the right to claim they are.

 

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 3, 2023 at 4:29 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Rich but icy red for Valentine’s Day

with 36 comments

 

Here are two more views, one broad and the other close, of fruited yaupon trees (Ilex vomitoria)
from the ice storm that we “welcomed” the month of February into Austin with.

 

  


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Below are some quotations from Andrew Doyle‘s 2022 book The New Puritans.
The guy has a way with words and comes out with some zingers.
(I’ve retained his British spelling and punctuation.)

 

…It has apparently never occurred to anyone involved that the best solution to feeling offended by a particular show is simply not to watch it.

The truest commitment to diversity, of course, involves a recognition of the primacy and sovereignty of the individual.

There are now flags for every conceivable sexual or gender identity. These are not necessarily representative of groups that have been historically persecuted, but rather a hotchpotch of neologisms that can be seemingly selected at will like so many fashion accessories. Flags have been designed for those who identify as pangender, aporagender, agender, bigender, trigender, genderqueer, genderfluid, demigender, demigirl, demiboy, neutrois, polyamorous, non-binary, asexual, omnisexual, poly-sexual, abrosexual, androsexual, gynosexual, skoliosexual, aromantic, gender questioning, gender non-conforming, and many more. Surely it would be far easier to create one giant flag for narcissists and be done with it.

Is this progress? Or it is simply that some of us remain sober while the world gets drunk? The proliferation of what we might call ‘neosexualities’ risks demeaning the struggles of sexual minorities in the past. The persecution of homosexuals over the centuries is well documented, but if there has been any equivalent campaigns against asexuals it has certainly escaped the attention of historians. It is difficult to conceive of a militant evangelist at his pulpit condemning anyone for having a low libido.

Those who oppose Critical Race Theory are so often charged with simply failing to understand it. As with any academic field, there are nuances and details that will escape a layman, but this does not debar him from objecting to some of the central premises. It would be akin to a clergyman claiming that atheists are unqualified to declare their disbelief in God until they have developed a sufficient level of expertise in Thomas Aquinas’s writings on the compatibility of faith and reason.

 

 © 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 14, 2023 at 4:31 AM

Posted in nature photography

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